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by EA

screenshot_03-01.jpg (7939 bytes)James Bond was once a promising and influential franchise name, but the promising Bond license has become the quintessential cash cow and it’s being milked at your expense. While Bond supports moderately good graphics and several cool gadgets, there isn’t a Bond device cool enough to rescue this thoroughly disappointing title.

screenshot_05-01.jpg (6896 bytes)There was a lot of potential here. What with the Bond gadgets and the sneaking and the shooting and the driving and what not--who wouldn’t want to be Bond for a few exciting hours? Goldeneye showed how successful the license could be, and Perfect Dark later showed us once again how much fun being a secret agent with a lot of guns could be. So much potential--what went wrong here?

Just about everything.

screenshot_01-01.jpg (6912 bytes)While Agent Under Fire is capable of delivering a few hours of mild enjoyment, it’s more like the shadow of a good game, tantalizing images that are almost cool but are dispersed and undone with anything more than casual observation. The story is weak and non-immersive, the gameplay mediocre at best, the levels are simple, uninspiring and far too linear, the gadgets are contrived, and the multiplayer is disgraceful. Considering the level of the FPS genre—Red Faction, Halo, Deus Ex, to name a few recent titles—it’s impossible to recommend Agent Under Fire and it’s sad and telling that its most promising attribute is that it’s appearing on the starving Gamecube where lack of games to compete against is a predictable counterweight to poor quality and shoddy gameplay.

screen_051-01.jpg (5302 bytes)Where games like Red Faction and Halo deliver strong narratives with you, the gamer, thrust deep into the center of the story and the action, Agent Under Fire’s story consists of discrete missions that fail to construct a convincing narrative. The cutscenes and various radio transmissions attempt to form a cohesive fabric between the missions, but fail primarily because the transition between missions is so jarring and the missions themselves offer so little to move the story forward or compel the gamer to care what happens next. Sure I always had a sense of who needed rescuing and who needed killing, but I found it impossible to immerse myself in the narrative, and I couldn’t escape the feeling (rightly placed) that even if I hadn’t known who needed saving and who needed killing I still could have gotten through the game by walking forward and shooting everything that looked suspicious and/or moved.

screen_031-01.jpg (4969 bytes)As the world’s premier spy, Bond has of course been equipped with the latest gadgetry-- including a grappling hook, lock cutting laser, night vision glasses and an all purpose computer remote control. This is a noble attempt to spice up the FPS genre and give it a decidedly secret agent feel; unfortunately, the execution is less than perfect and the final product feels largely contrived and unnecessary. Some of the missions successfully make use of the Bond toys—such as when you break into a complex and photograph satellite blueprints—but by and large they are neither woven into the gameplay nor provide any sensation of being clever or Bond-esque. Take the grappling hook, for example. The hook can shoot out and attach to a distant surface before promptly reeling you across, or up, to wherever it is you want to go. Sounds nifty, no? It is, when you can use it, and you can only use it to attach to specially placed metal plates--which exist only so you can attach your grappling hook to them. The contrived nature of the experience is pervasive throughout all the Bond gadgets. It’s like having a sign that tells you when to use your devices and this, unfortunately, isn’t an exaggeration.

screen_071-01.jpg (4691 bytes)The enemy AI is somewhat less than brilliant. The have a tendency to choose "stand around and get shot" as their main tactic. They can be dangerous in numbers, especially at the higher difficulty levels, but they’re hardly creative. Some opponents are more difficult than others, though this is because you have to shoot them more times as they stand there and get shot, thus giving them more of a chance to return fire. Armor vests are abundant—this is your source of health, so there’s really no need to be careful aside from increasing your ranking.

screen_010-01.jpg (5765 bytes)For a change of pace some missions are driving missions; these are pretty fun and they look good, though they’re far too easy. They’re also a bit too direct. They have a tendency to feel more like you’re on a roller coaster ride with a gun than actively participating in a driving spy battle. A couple of the "driving" missions do away with the steering all together and simply propel you forward along the prescribed route.

screenshot_04-01.jpg (6963 bytes)The multiplayer game is a predictable disappointment. While both the Gamecube and the X-box have bots, an improvement over the PS2 version, it’s still not enough. The stages are too small, and the number of bots and players can never exceed four. Why does it seem to be so difficult for developers to make a good FPS multiplayer game for a console? Why is the ancient (in videogame years) Perfect Dark still the undisputed master of multiplayer FPS’s on a console system? If the N64 can handle so many more bots with so much more personality, why can’t my Gamecube? The answer is it can of course, but too many developers are still content to cut corners and deliver multiplayer modes as if they’re an after thought instead of a selling point. It’s too bad really.

screenshot_06-01.jpg (7203 bytes)It’s hard to recommend Agent Under Fire. Everything seems to be sub-par. As a relatively simple game it might be a good introduction to the genre. Considering the Gamecube’s skimpy lineup, Agent Under Fire might make a decent rental; despite its many drawbacks it can deliver a few hours of fun, but if you’re looking for more you’ll have to look elsewhere. This also means you’ll have to be patient.

Jeff Luther   (04/29/2002)


Ups: Some highpoints; cool gadgets; addition of bots to multiplayer.

Downs: No real story; contrived use of gadgets; predictable missions; limit of four players in multiplayer.

Platform: Gamecube